A Few of My Favorite Linux Distros for 2013

One of the things I like about Open Source software and Linux distros is that they are continually being updated and improved. Since last October, new versions of some of my favorite distros have been or will soon be released. So today I just wanted to mention a few of my personal favorites to look forward to.

The computer I’m using to write this on has Voyager Linux installed. Voyager is a French re-mix of Xubuntu, but with additional software, artwork and optimizations. Another nice distro that uses Xfce is Manjaro Linux, but for my favorites list I’m sticking to Ubuntu/Debian based distros.

Right now I’m using Voyager 12.04 on the main computer I share with my wife, though there’s a new version that’s based on Ubuntu 12.10 that came out the first of November. Voyager is a great balance of being lighter on your hardware (thanks to Xfce) while providing an attractive appearance and useful pre-installed software. I especially like the Conky Control utility that makes configuring the Conky system monitor incredibly simple. And Voyager comes with a pre-configured AWN Dock also.

I tried out the Live CD of Voyager 12.10 a while back. But since it still uses Xfce 4.10 (as the 12.04 release does) and there don’t seem to be any earth-shaking changes to Xubuntu/Voyager, I’m staying with Voyager 12.04 for now. The only big change I noticed in the new Voyager is that they have substituted Cairo Dock for AWN as the bottom Dock launcher, because AWN has stopped development. Voyager 12.04 works dandy and is set up just like I want it.

However, I’ve been toying with the idea of installing a different distro on this machine, just for the fun of it! Here are a few I’m considering…

Linux Mint. I’ve expressed my love for Mint before, and I’m especially fond of Mint’s Fork of Gnome Shell: Cinnamon Desktop Environment. It adds more features, customization and beauty with every new release. I think this is a great Linux distribution for newbies and experienced Linux fans alike. It’s easy to use with a lovely balance of simplicity, power and visual elegance. And I like Mint’s fork of the Nautilus File Manager, Nemo, that comes with Mint Cinnamon. (Wow, it seems like lately everyone’s making their own fork of Nautilus!) I also think their Xfce and KDE versions are top-notch; but Cinnamon is my favorite at the moment.

Mint14 2013-01-14

The only trouble is, I have it installed on another one of our computers (above). So just for variety, I might also want to try…

Netrunner 12.12. Or Netrunner Dryland, Version 4; they seem to be the same thing. Netrunner looks like a very nice KDE distro that is based on Kubuntu. I have to confess, I’ve not yet installed Netrunner to a hard drive, but I’ve tried it from the live CD quite extensively, and it works beautifully. I’ve been burned by KDE bugginesss a couple of times before (with Kubuntu), so I’n not sure I want to commit a KDE distro to the main computer right now. But from what I’ve seen and heard from others, it looks like Netrunner is about the nicest implementation of KDE around these days. Maybe when KDE 4.10 is finally released I’d try it out. But if you’re already a KDE fan this distro might be very appealing.

The configuration options with KDE and the Plasma Desktop are almost overwhelming for me, personally. But it sure is a thing of beauty when it behaves itself! Despite the gorgeous compositing effects, I’m still leaning toward a simpler, cleaner and slightly less hardware-taxing operating system. With that in mind, there are two other distros I’d consider installing in the near future…

SolusOS is the one distro I’m most looking forward to. I’ve mentioned it before – but the spankin’ new, completely rebuilt version of SolusOS 2 is now under heavy development, and I can’t wait till it’s finished later this year. This is the distro that will probably take the place of Voyager Linux on the main machine. I think it’s going to be awesome!

Another distro that just had an update is Fuduntu 2013.1. Since it’s a rolling release, there’s no need to re-install for Fuduntu 2012.4 users, just perform regular updates for the newest version. Well, I cheated a little – this is based on Fedora, NOT Ubuntu/Debian. But I really like this distro; it just gets better and better! Another great distro for people wanting to try Linux.

And also for your consideration… ElementaryOS has been getting a lot of buzz for a long time. It looks like it may soon be released (beta 1 is available now). For a simple, uncluttered and modern OS, this may be your cup of tea as well.  All the components many Linux users have come to love over the past few years (like Nautilus Elementary) wrapped into a complete operating system. This is sure to appeal to many new and current Linux users.

Update March 18, 2013: Since I wrote this, I’ve installed Zorin OS 6.2 Core Edition on our main computer. See here for more details. Zorin OS is very easy to use and touts itself as being a good distro for Windows users who want to try Linux. Also, OpenSUSE 12.3 has been released, and it looks fabulous. The Linux Action Show just reviewed it (starts at around 32 minutes in). Check it out!

Those are my personal recommendations for the moment. I’ll leave you with a few more review links below.

Mint 14 Cinnamon Review Infinitely Galactic

Netrunner 12.12 Review: TOSToday

Elementary Luna Beta Preview: Top 5 Features

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The Cinnamon Desktop Environment

A few months ago I installed Linux Mint 13 (Maya), Cinnamon version on my HP Mini 1000 netbook. I was familiar with Cinnamon since it began last year as a fork of Gnome 3. It looked kind of interesting, and a more user-friendly version of Gnome 3; but it was in its infancy and lacked many features. But since then, Clement Lefebvre has done a lot of work on Cinnamon and it’s becoming a very nice alternate desktop environment.

I had tried out a few lightweight Linux distros on the HP Mini, but wasn’t totally happy with them, or had trouble installing the Broadcom wireless driver for it.  So I turned to Mint 13, even though I wasn’t sure if it would run that well on the netbook. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how great Mint 13 with Cinnamon looks and runs on this little machine! So I’ve been exploring how to configure Cinnamon and finding it to be a very easy to use, capable and elegant desktop manager. (But what else would you expect from Linux Mint? ;)). In fact, I enjoyed it so much I decided to install it last week on my older HP Pentium 4 desktop computer that the kids use. Here is the Mint 13 Cinnamon desktop on this desktop machine. ( I added Docky and moved the panel from the default bottom position to the top).

To elaborate a little – hopefully without boring you too much – I had installed Bodhi Linux 2.01 on this same computer a week earlier. In fact, I was originally going to talk about my impressions of Bodhi here. I really like Bodhi Linux and all the wonderful features the developers have added to this distro that uses the Enlightenment desktop. The new version is based on Ubuntu 12.04 and is very frugal, fast and beautiful. The only problem is, about one week after I started using it on the kid’s computer, E-17 flaked out on me after a restart. I got an ‘Enlightenment modules failed to load at startup’ or something like that, message. I reloaded most of the modules that I’d previously set up, but I still couldn’t get anything to load on my bottom shelf (panel). And after a restart, the modules still would not work. I know from past experience that by deleting the ‘.e’ configuration file I could probably fix the problem. But that would mean having to re-create all the set-up of the system from scratch. And since this has happened to me before using Bodhi, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Enlightenment is now being actively developed, but I’ve had this happen on two other occasions on different computers (which is not the fault of the Bodhi team) so it seems that for me, Enlightenment is still not stable enough for everyday use. This is what led me to install Linux Mint.

Moving along – I’m really enjoying Cinnamon on Mint 13. It’s been very stable, attractive and configurable enough for my tastes. (And of course you can always add Cinnamon as an alternate desktop manager in Ubuntu as well). In fact, I’m liking it almost as much as I enjoy Xfce! I’m intrigued to see how Cinnamon developes further in the coming year and on Linux Mint 14. This leads me to mention another distro that I just discovered, which also uses the Cinnamon desktop manager: Cinnarch Linux.

While Mint is based on Ubuntu, Cinnarch is based on the venerable Arch Linux, which is light, simple and much loved by experienced Linux users. I’ve shied away from Arch myself because it has a reputation for being a purer but geekier brand of Linux; more text-based configuration, command line use and kind of a pain-in-the-ass to install for the average GUI user like myself. But Cinnarch looks like a wonderful operating system that uses the Cinnamon desktop and is a lot more user-friendly. Another nice feature of using Arch Linux is that it, and Cinnarch, are rolling releases; so you install it once and upgrade for the newer versions instead of having to re-install every six months. As you will see from their website, Cinnarch is a beautiful fusion of form and function.

These two screenshots are from my Live CD session trying out Cinnarch. It comes with a nice selection of applications, like the newest version of Chromium web browser (22.0.1229.79); Pidgin; Transmission bittorrent app; Pantheon File browser (a fork of Nautilus); Brasero disk burner; Cheese webcam app; Movie Player; Image Viewer; Shotwell video editor, and most of the utilities you would expect on a Gnome-based system. I found Cinnarch as easy to use and functional as any Ubuntu/Debian based distro I’ve ever used. And the Cinnamon desktop and Cinnamon Settings worked beautifully.

It uses the Pacman package manager (unlike Synaptic in Debian/Ubuntu-based distros) which I don’t have much experience using. But the version of Pacman that Cinnarch uses is extremely functional, besides just installing or uninstalling software, and seems like it’s not much more difficult to use than Synaptic. At least I found it fairly intuitive after poking around a bit. If you want to try out an Arch Linux system without being an advanced Linux guru, I think Cinnarch might be a good alternative.

But whatever distibution you use it with, I’ve found Cinnamon to be a capable and lovely desktop environment that I believe will only get better with age.

Tips and Tricks for Linux Mint 13 Maya Cinnamon Edition after Installation

Update: I just found another nice post about Cinnarch at Unixmen.com